“Here, then, is the heart of conservation. Keeping Wilderness and wildlife free, hale, and hearty is about letting beings be, about growing the goodness of self-braking that lets land and living beings have their own will.”
~Dave Foreman, from his essay Wild Things for Their Own Sake
It would be difficult to overstate the contributions Dave Foreman, Co-Founder of New Mexico Wild, made to protecting Wilderness and wild things, and for advancing – years ahead of his time – concepts like rewilding. From his days as a Co-founder of Earth First! to his vocal work preserving sky islands and the development of the rewilding movement, Dave’s legacy as an eco-warrior forged a deep and rugged path through wilderness conservation and activism. Dave was most recently the founder of the Rewilding Institute. His vision was one of a rewilded North America, filled with “many-fold, tangled life not hobbled by Man’s will.”
Conservationist and author Terry Tempest Williams wrote this about Dave:
“His spirited voice, raised fist, and memorable gestures including the unrolling of a black crack on the Glen Canyon Dam —alongside his writings as an eco-philosopher and his work with the Rewilding Institute — his legacy will live on. The FBI identified him as an ‘eco-terrorist.’ In his words, ‘I hope I am a danger to the attitude that the Earth is a smorgasbord for human beings.’ A passionate defender of wild lands and wild lives, Dave made us all braver in our activism and showed us what appears ‘radical’ is actually conservative in the importance of speaking the truth about protecting the planet. Foreman embodied the seriousness of true commitment with humor and conviction. He was fearless and he was eloquent. His heart was huge, and his vision was clear, ‘We are trying to help the evolution of Mother Earth to continue.’ The wolves must be howling about now in the New Mexico wilderness where his wish is to happily decompose back to Earth.”
A charismatic speaker and prolific writer, Dave published hundreds of essays, articles, and several books, including Rewilding North America; The Lobo Outback Funeral Home: A Novel; and Take Back Conservation.
Dave made what was probably his final public speech at the annual New Mexico Wild 25th Anniversary Celebration in April of this year. Even though Dave was a little under the weather, he stepped up to address our large group of Wilderness supporters. With the same vigor and energy he brought to founding the conservation movement, Dave wholeheartedly thanked all of us for helping to save his favorite place on earth, New Mexico. Ever the inspiration, Dave could always be counted on to bring the absolute best of his wildling heart to every effort. It was a transformative moment for us all.
The Dave Foreman Wilderness Defenders Program
In the spirit of Dave’s love of wild places, we’re seeking volunteer Wilderness Defenders who will cultivate relationships with designated natural areas in New Mexico, helping to monitor Wilderness values and conditions. This information will be incredibly useful as we continue to advocate for greater levels of protection. With more than 36 million acres of public land in the state, we can use as many boots on the ground as possible.
Dave Foreman with New Mexico Wild Deputy Director Tisha Broska
At our 25th Anniversary celebration, Dave thanked all of us for protecting his favorite place on earth (New Mexico). In his final days, I held his hand and told him we loved him. I thanked him for all that he has given to our Wild cause, we would not be here without the work of Dave Foreman.I met Dave 24 years ago when I started with New Mexico Wild. The famous conservationist and author was a large personality in the history of New Mexico Wild. He and his wife Nancy were part of a small group who founded the organization. Dave's vision was woven into our mission... protect, enjoy, and restore. He was always reminding us of the shoulders we stood on to get to this point, from Aldo Leopold, Howard Zahniser, and Steward Udall, to Michael Soule, it is important to carry the best pieces of their vision forward. Dave Foreman was a tough guy. He fought like hell for public lands and especially for wildlife. But, when you really got to know Dave, you understood that his love for wild things made him a big old teddy bear. He once cried when I told him about the juvenile thrasher I found dead in my yard. Dave saw things differently than most people and shared with us a wild wisdom and a gentle heart that will be sorely missed. We will do our best to carry on the fire that Dave ignited in our work to protect New Mexico.
New Mexico Wild
Dave Foreman with New Mexico Wild Director Mark Allison
It is of course impossible to do much credit to anyone’s life in just a few words, and particularly so to one as full and rich as Dave’s.
Dave was a towering figure in the wilderness and conservation movement, with many notable contributions and achievements throughout his life. He was not just a rabble-rouser – though that in itself was significant - but a serious intellect with a deep and sustained passion and discipline spanning decades. He authored numerous works of consequence and helped to create a range of influential conservation organizations. I trust others more qualified to highlight the historic importance of his role (read James Hickerson’s incredibly thorough and well-researched manuscript, “Origins of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance,” here) and so will instead share some thoughts about Dave as a person.
Looking to join the New Mexico Wild now ten years ago, I initially found the thought of being interviewed by Dave and serving under him as a director on the board to be an intimidating one. Somewhat star-struck, I had read his books and was aware of his reputation. How, I wondered, could I as a newcomer possibly withstand his scrutiny and measure up against the fierce standards of this giant in the movement? I may have even had some notion of being castigated by a displeased fanatic, likely in his booming voice, possibly with his arms waving.
Instead, Dave was warm and welcoming to me beyond anything I had a right to expect or deserve. He was gracious and always willing to share his time. He was patient with my questions and my newness to “professional” conservation. I saw him extend this same kindness of spirit to countless others over the years.
Of course, over time, I learned he needed little prompting to regale those in earshot with stories, which more than occasionally started off “back in the 1970’s…”. I loved hearing all of them, recognizing even then how lucky we were to have this opportunity.
I was fortunate to spend time with Dave and Nancy on river trips and can personally confirm numerous examples of his well-deserved reputation for bumbling accident-proneness. On one occasion on the San Juan River, Dave had already contrived to injure his hand early in the trip, which Nancy had expertly taped (from what most would describe as an excessively large first aid kit, but through much experience had been determined to be just the right size with Dave along). Dave was trying to get the grill going at camp when the happy hour chatter was interrupted by Dave loudly crying out – “#&%# -- my bandage is on fire!”
After expressing the requisite initial concern, the absurdity of it made it impossible to stifle laughs. And after a cold botanical gin, which Dave called a “martini,” despite zero vermouth, he too found the humor in it. I liked that he was able to laugh at himself with his eyes crinkling and that hearty guffaw. And how he managed to become so filthy half an hour into a week-long trip was always a mystery to me. Paddle forward…or something!
Danger lurked closer to home too. Like the time he was trying to cat-proof his backyard and fell off the roof, not once but twice…! His long-time friends could spend days recounting stories like these, something I know Dave would welcome and take great pleasure from. He really did have nine lives. He used to say that he “wasn’t old, just beat up.” And it’s true, he could be hard on himself.
Even before he became a published author, a significant part of Dave’s advocacy was motivating others to action through speeches. Public speaking was important to Dave and early on he resolved that he wanted to do it well. It was something he worked at very intentionally. As anyone who had the chance to hear him speak knows, he succeeded. (Speaking with Kenneth Brower after an event in Silver City some years back, Kenneth noted that the one person his father David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, did not want to follow as a speaker was Dave.)
Dave was a truly gifted orator, and his speeches could move people to tears and get them on their feet. He had a rare ability to resonate intergenerationally, and new and younger cohorts would lean forward in their chairs eagerly listening to what he was saying. Reaching and exciting new advocates and stewards is one of his important legacies. After a speech, people, young and old, would clamor to connect with him. Whatever the particular topic, he invariably exhorted the audience to value the natural world for its own sake, apart from any human-centric lens or benefit. Chickadee Dee Dee!
I was able to spend time with Dave in his last days. He was dying, he knew it and told us so, and said that he was not afraid. To the last, he was gracious and wanted us to know how proud he was of his role helping establish New Mexico Wild and in what it had become. He expressed regret at not being able to organize his papers to completion, though to be fair, that would have taken several lifetimes. He wasn’t a hoarder exactly…but let’s say he was conscientious about saving. And a lifetime of work advocating for wild places and wild creatures adds up, in more ways than one.
After Dave’s passing, I received messages from his friends and colleagues (and from some who didn’t even know him personally), several of whom used the term “North Star” to describe what Dave meant to them and to conservation in general. I think that’s right. Dave shined brightly and never wavered. He didn’t lose focus on what was important, and his clarity and constancy guided many of us. And, I know, will continue to do so.
Dave was not without his faults, none of us are. But he was a powerful force, a significant figure in the evolution of the conservation movement, a contributor and proponent of big ideas, years and even decades ahead of his time - formative concepts like rewilding, and biodiversity, connectivity, and of course, the essentialness of wildness. For its own sake.
Dave was a friend and a mentor to me and countless others. I will remember him for his intellect, his encyclopedic memory, his epic stories, his willingness to poke fun at himself, his easy laugh, his generosity to me and my family, and his big heart.
His passion about wilderness and his true joy and wonder at experiencing even the humblest of creatures was an inspiration to me. His lifelong commitment to advocating for their protection is the model and standard that we at New Mexico Wild and all who loved him will look to as our obligation to truly honor his memory.
Alas, though Dave wasn’t able to meet his end by being trampled by a muskox on the Arctic tundra as he fairly longed for, he was able to escape the hospital to be with friends and family at home.
In some of his last words to me, he said he didn’t want to be forgotten. I told him he wasn’t exactly the forgettable type. I still don’t know if gin without vermouth is really a martini, but here’s to you Dave. Well done.
Director, New Mexico Wild
New Mexico Wild